Trump's dis­be­lief won't stop danger­ous cli­mate change

The Guardian Australia - - Environment / Science - Dana Nuc­citelli

“I don’t be­lieve it,” said Don­ald Trump when asked about the fourth na­tional cli­mate as­sess­ment, au­thored by 13 gov­ern­ment agen­cies and hun­dreds of the US’s top cli­mate sci­en­tists. His ad­min­is­tra­tion had tried to hide the re­port, pub­lish­ing it on Black Fri­day when many Amer­i­cans were ei­ther re­cov­er­ing from a Thanks­giv­ing food coma or stam­ped­ing depart­ment store sales.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion’s plan back­fired badly – the lat­est alarm­ing cli­mate sci­ence re­port be­came front-page news. Nu­mer­ous Re­pub­li­can politi­cians were asked about it on TV news and pol­i­tics shows, and their an­swers demon­strated that Trump’s cli­mate sci­ence de­nial con­tin­ues to per­vade the GOP.

Re­pub­li­can party lead­ers’ an­swers ranged from plat­i­tudes – such as “our cli­mate al­ways changes” and “in­no­va­tion” is all that is needed to solve the prob­lem – to ac­cu­sa­tions that “a lot of these sci­en­tists are driven by the money”.

Ad­dress­ing the lat­ter point,one of the re­port’s lead au­thors, Prof Katharine Hay­hoe, noted that many of its con­trib­u­tors were “paid zero dol­lars” and es­ti­mated that in the time she de­voted to the as­sess­ment, she could have writ­ten eight of her own pa­pers. Con­versely, GOP politi­cians and operatives are paid mil­lions of dol­lars an­nu­ally by the fos­sil fuel in­dus­try. Some peo­ple are clearly driven by the money, and it’s not cli­mate sci­en­tists.

Trump’s com­ments did not stop at dis­be­lief – he also ap­peared to shift blame to other coun­tries and tout the US’s clean air and wa­ter.

“You’re go­ing to have to have China, and Ja­pan, and all of Asia, and all of these other coun­tries – you know, [the re­port] ad­dresses our coun­try. Right now, we’re at the clean­est we’ve ever been, and that’s very im­por­tant to me. But if we’re clean but ev­ery other place on Earth is dirty, that’s not so good. So, I want clean air, I want clean wa­ter – very im­por­tant,” the pres­i­dent said.

These com­ments con­fuse cli­mate change with air pol­lu­tion, but the two are con­nected. The na­tional cli­mate as­sess­ment re­port pointed out that cli­mate change was ex­ac­er­bat­ing wild­fires, which in turn cre­ate air pol­lu­tion. The Camp fire in Novem­ber pro­duced so much smoke that Cal­i­for­nia had the worst air qual­ity in the world at the time.

A key fig­ure showed that cli­mate change had ap­prox­i­mately dou­bled the area burned by wild­fires in the west­ern US, and the re­port noted that – con­trary to the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s fre­quent claims – this in­crease was “more closely re­lated to cli­mate fac­tors than to fire sup­pres­sion, lo­cal fire man­age­ment, or other non-cli­mate fac­tors”.

Trump’s claim that US air is “the clean­est it’s ever been” is also not strictly true. De­spite a long-term down­ward trend, ow­ing in large part to the re­place­ment of coal power plants that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is des­per­ately try­ing to save, par­tic­u­late mat­ter lev­els were up slightly from 2016 to 2017.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ef­forts to weaken and re­peal ev­ery pos­si­ble en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tion cer­tainly do not merit credit for the long-term im­prove­ment in air and wa­ter qual­ity in the US.

Trump’s ef­forts to shift blame to other coun­tries is also at odds with the fact that ev­ery other na­tion in the world has signed up to the Paris cli­mate ac­cords and only one gov­ern­ment has an­nounced its in­tent to with­draw from them.

The Re­pub­li­can party has be­come Trump’s as well. The few party lead­ers who were will­ing to ac­knowl­edge the threats de­tailed in the re­port claimed that all the cli­mate poli­cies pro­posed thus far would be harm­ful to the econ­omy, and that we should in­stead focus on in­no­va­tion.

While in­di­vid­ual cli­mate poli­cies may or may not slow the econ­omy, the sci­en­tific re­search is clear that cli­mate change will curb eco­nomic growth – par­tic­u­larly in the US. The as­sess­ment re­port makes clear that if we’re wor­ried about the econ­omy, we must slow global warm­ing. And while re­search into po­ten­tial car­bon-cut­ting tech­nol­ogy in­no­va­tions is needed, hop­ing that some­body will in­vent a way out of this mess is too big a risk. It is ac­cepted that solv­ing global warm­ing won’t be cheap or easy but fail­ing to do so will come at a much higher cost and not just in terms of money.

Those were the least ir­ra­tional of the Re­pub­li­can party’s re­ac­tions to the re­port, as most of the five stages of cli­mate de­nial were on dis­play. One con­ser­va­tive pan­elist went as far as to claim: “We had two of the coldest years, big­gest drop in global tem­per­a­tures that we have had since the 1980s, the big­gest in the last 100 years.”

In re­al­ity, at the end of this year, 2014–2018 will be the five hottest years ever recorded. And vir­tu­ally ev­ery­thing Trump’s press sec­re­tary, Sarah Huck­abee San­ders, said about the re­port was wrong, in­clud­ing that it was “not based on facts … not data-driven”.

As the US as­tro­physi­cist Neil deGrasse Tyson has said: “The good thing about sci­ence is that it’s true whether or not you be­lieve in it.”


Amer­i­cans elected many cli­mate­re­al­ist Democrats to the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tive and state gov­er­nor­ships in the midterms. If the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion and the GOP con­tinue to a plat­form of dis­be­lief on cli­mate change, he and Se­nate Repub­li­cans may also face be­ing voted out in 2020.

Getty Images Pho­to­graph: Josh Edelson/AFP/

Flames from the Camp fire burn near Big Bend, Cal­i­for­nia.

Pho­to­graph: Fourth Na­tional Cli­mate As­sess­ment Re­port

The cu­mu­la­tive for­est area burned by wild­fires in the west­ern US be­tween 1984 and2015.

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